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Surviving the shoulder season

Seven steps to fighting the doldrums and courting chaos



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"Since the [2008] recession hit, the food bank has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people accessing our services, says Sara Jennings, food bank coordinator. When businesses struggle, residents also struggle as there are less jobs to go around, and people's hours are cut. The busiest periods for the food bank are the shoulder seasons, spring and fall as there is less work in the resort. However, for the first time in four years, the numbers have started to go down at the food bank. This is most likely due to the increase in business in Whistler this year. As businesses do better the food bank sees fewer people."

Feeding the need—of the lowly-paid and precarious labourer

The shoulder season is a strange study in contrasts. While fine dining and off-season deals might be on the radar for some, others struggle to gulp down a regular meal. The struggles of the offseason mirror the increasing gap between rich and poor in our society as a whole, which in 2011 hit a record thirty-year high, according to a December report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to Van Straaten, Whistler's lowest-income families and those with addictions and mental health issues are the long-term users of the food bank. However, most users need the service only one to five times to get "through a short rough patch," says Jennings. About half of the overall users are newcomers to Whistler, with the majority (67 per cent) being males between the ages of 20 to 29. Only about a quarter are unemployed and seeking work; a third are underemployed, putting them in an ever-growing category of what economists call "precarious labour."

"Transients tend to have the lowest paid jobs and have their hours cut first," says Jennings. "However, we also do see a lot of people coming to Whistler without the resources to meet their needs while they look for employment."

This of course raises larger questions: what level of "resources" — which is to say, cold hard cash — are now necessary for the ski bum to weather a season in Whistler? Is it still feasible to depend upon lowest paid, transient labour as the frontline workforce at a world-class ski resort? Can Whistler expect transient workers to sink thousands of dollars to live here, only to receive minimum wage in a position fraught with precarity — and possibly ending with a trip to the food bank?